There is a growing trend in the UK towards snowflake folksingers who wear their hearts on their sleeves and are happier to be perceived as men of the people rather than voices of a generation.
I first became aware of this phenomenon in 2004 when subjected to James Blunt's cloying hit single 'You're Beautiful'. This, if you recall, was the story of a man who saw a woman in a crowded place, realized he'd never see this beauty ever again and consequently, if the song's video is to be believed, decided to jump off a cliff.
More recently this breed of soft, unthreatening maleness has been best personified by the inexplicable global success of Ed Sheeran. In Sheeran's case, the singer's good nature and apparent level headedness makes you feel mean-minded and cynical for saying bad things about him. "He's so nice", argue the Sheeranites.
Enter the fray, the equally nice Michael David Rosenberg born in Brighton & Hove to Quaker parents. His mother is English and his father is from Vineland, New Jersey.
Rosenberg/Passenger's Brits-winning single 'Let Her Go' from his 2012 album 'All The Little Lights' has all but guaranteed the platinum status of 'Runaway', his 10th studio album.
Before picking faults, I'd like to go on record as saying that Rosenberg looks like a perfectly decent and upstanding citizen. While James Blunt exudes the kind of smugness that makes him eminently punchable, Rosenberg is the kind of guy who you'd be more inclined to pat on the back and offer to buy a pint for. But likeability does not blind me to the fundamental shallowness of his music.
In Ghost Town, to a backdrop of stirring strings and poignant piano, he observes that "times they change and factories close", a level of social commentary that's about as profound as saying "I remember when all this was fields".
As a poet his metaphors suck. In Heart To Love he can be found "searching for diamonds in a pile of coal" while in Let's Go he sings of a yearning to "fly like a kite in the wind of your mind". In the latter song he also argues that "freedom's a fork in the road"; I originally heard 'fuck' in place of the cooking utensil; on balance, I think I prefer my version.
The artist known as Passenger's secret weapon and distinguishing feature is his vulnerability. This is highlighted by the androgynous fragility of his singing voice. On top of this, he deploys skills honed as a busker, charming live audiences with the kind of self deprecating wit which is sorely lacking in his recorded songs. In a world where most performers struggle in vain to keep their bloated egos in check, his down to earth-ness is refreshing.
Of this new set of songs, Rosenberg flags up an Americana theme which led to the decision to film a video for each of the ten tracks with big, American visuals. You can see evidence of this in the promo film for the title track where our hero is to be seen jogging against a constantly changing backdrop of suburban streets, beaches and desert highways.
Rosenberg smiles and gives the thumbs up to everyone he meets reserving a special solidarity fist for a black family. A cynic might see this as a shameless pitch to the lucrative U.S. market but I'll let that pass. Rather, what the video brought to my mind was the epic run of Forrest Gump and it has to be said that there's something Gumpian is Rosenberg's philosophy of life.
Perhaps his stage name is a clue. Being a passenger means you are not in the driving seat so you are never fully in control on where you are going. This could explain the fatalistic streak in his songs. Why Can't I Change? he asks himself and other implicit questions include Why can't I find (and keep) a perfect love?, Why can't we be free?, Why can't we all live together in perfect harmony? Why does it always rain on me?
In the Forrest Gump movie, a feather was a symbol both of life's fragility and being forever at the mercy of the elements. 'Like a feather on a breeze' is a simile Rosenberg used for 'And I Love Her' from his previous album 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' and on 'Runaway' he likens travelers (and American dreamers) to "feathers on the ocean breeze" in To Be Free.
Rosenberg is not as dumb as Gump but neither is he a go to man when looking for insights into the meaning of life. In the closing track Survivors, the sum total of his wisdom after 33 years on the planet is that life's a game in which the rules are never explained. He is also less than revelatory when noting of the people you meet that "some of them will leave, some of them will stay".
He means well, of course, and all of this comes in the name of harmless entertainment. All in all, Passenger deserves praise for having the guts to show his sensitive side even though it's plain from the content of these songs that emotional frailty can be more of a burden than an asset.
Fortunately for him, strength and consolation will come from the fact that this album will undoubtedly sell by the bucketload. I wish him all the best.